“A different kind of justice”
Romans 11:1, 2a, 29-32, Matthew 15: (10-20) 21-28
I obviously never knew Robin Williams. I did know closely, a young man who after dousing himself and the car in which he sat reach for a packet of matches. A middle aged man on a lonely road, place the bible he was reading on the seat next to him and feel the cold steel of a gun barrel and an elderly gentleman drift off to sleep in the garage of the family home as his lungs were filled with carbon monoxide.
Superannuation, government pensions, unemployment benefits and opportunities in our country, that wether at the top of the tree or near the bottom sees us living a standard of life that others in war torn or famine riddled countries-and in deed our forbearers in this country could only have dreamed off.
In the realm of goods and services even the underprivileged of us are privileged to those of the same in another time or place. Through hard work and a bit of luck we can offer ourselves many of the comforts of life. If only through the same measured thinking we could offer ourselves the comfort of mercy.
Mercy is a rarely heard cry these days and the words from a minister still ring in my ears when after visiting a father suffering in grief from the suicide of his son offered him the “comfort” that his son through his actions had unfortunately cut himself off from the chance of salvation and eternal life.
In our world of cause and effect the cries are not of mercy but of justice, demands for equality and calls for vindication and indeed the opponents of capital punishment rarely base their arguments based on mercy but rather that death for death does not stop those involved in such heinous crimes.
Today, outside church walls rarely is the cry for mercy heard like it was in ancient times when the masses were desperately dependent of the mercy of the few. The times of prophets, patriarchs and apostles was harsh and cruel and human lives were often worth far less than the whims and impulses of the ruling class. Slaves and captives from military conquests; the crippled and handicapped whose hopes for cure or assistance were usually shattered; or the few elderly who survived past the early death of those days all knew the tender thread by which they existed day to day, to which of much was at the mercy of those at the top.
So, when the scriptures use the concept of mercy to describe God-our merciful Father in heaven and to describe the plight and plea for humanity-the “Lord have mercy on us” they do so in a world which understood much better than we of what mercy was about.
Yet while known in those times, mercy was still a rare treat because of the sheer dimensions of the need and like today when we see those dying on distant shores and become overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, so too the privileged of times past with the means to dispense mercy often tended to look the other way.
In today’s readings we begin to understand the mercy for which those of humble means cried out for and to again appreciate God’s mercy toward us and his mercy in a merciless society and world, and understand it in our own plight and in our own pleas.
His mercy toward us that is necessary because of our plight because whether we acknowledge it or not, the natural human tendency is of a pride which both severs human relationships and gets in between us and God.
A problem that Israel suffered when the people of God began to think that they has such an inside track with him that they, the creatures, could dominate the Creator with carefully crafted religious routines to displace simple faith, mercy and loving service by that of mercy in the system itself, and sadly that describes much of the history of the Christian church where God’s people have continued to wrestle with attempts either individually or shared to take the centre stage away from God.
Paul will have none of it and with a sweeping stroke of his pen puts to flight such religious pride with his letter to the Romans and reminds them that no matter how saintly or prestigious a person is or may think they are: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
It is the plight common to us all and only when that condition of need is grasped and understood is a person in a position to appreciate and, by faith, to appropriate mercy because, like it is one thing to know you have a disease, it is another thing to seek help and accept the cure when offered. So too does mercy lie dormant and infective if it is neither wanted nor treasured and so God’s people, when knowing their need, have echoed throughout history the cry of the palmist’s plea, of: “Lord have mercy upon me, according to thy loving kindness.”
Mercy, not justice is the answer to our plight as seen through the wisdom of a photographer who after one of the subjects of his work stormed in and abused him saying “these photo’s don’t do me justice,” quietly replied, “Lady, you don’t need justice, what you need is mercy.”
We can be grateful that God did not deal with us directly in justice but with the intervening love of His Son Jesus Christ who took our place that He, and not we, become the object of the Father’s absolutely fair and impartial judgement upon sin.
In ancient times, those in need would line the streets and as their earthly King passed he would hear their cries of Lord have mercy. A cry for help and a statement to affirm that he, if anyone could dispense the mercy for which they asked. A plea the King often neglected as he passed by.
The same plea asked by those who met our heavenly King who did not come to pass by, but to take with.
The plea raised by ten lepers “who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said ‘Jesus, master, have mercy on us.’” And in today’s Gospel, the Canaanite women, reduced to despair over her daughter’s illness, cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.”
Blessed are we to see and know of the fulfilment of God’s irrevocable saving plan. His plan as sang of by Zechariah the father of John the Baptist that “Blessed by the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…to perform the mercy promised to our fathers.” And Mary, the girl of tender youth who was informed by the angel that she would be the mother of Christ, replied: “And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.”
Paul, who had come out of a system of legalism as a Pharisee, came to appreciate what that mercy meant and wrote to the Ephesians: “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ because by grace you have been saved.” And Peter, the shamed denier who knew the need for mercy, wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. “
Robin Williams, my three friends, soldiers suffering on a battlefield, the seriously medically afflicted and those fleeing the hurt through the lonely road of addiction, and indeed those amongst us and of us who have not heard an answer to our own cries for peace in this world, we are not to judge in neither earthly struggles or earthly death. But hear their cries for mercy and not answer in the darkness of the human spirit of which they know all too well, but answer in the Spirit of Christ and bring to sight His mercy before them, that though it may not be felt by them in this life, it will be known by them in in the next. Amen